Inside Nam Hatta

Inside Nam Hatta has the scoop on goings-on, developments and issues important to the disciples and followers of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

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The Iron Law of Oligarchy

(This article submitted by Angelina Deyarmond aka "Bhaktin Angel")
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The Hare Krishna movement (ISKCON) was founded in 1966 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (Prabhupada) in New York City. A cultural transplant of an Indian devotional denomination of Hinduism, Hare Krishna attracted many converts during the next 10 years, especially among the younger generation. From a beginning of less then 30 "drop-outs" gathering in a rented store front near Manhattans Bowery, the group swelled to over 5000 full-time members (devotees) and 42 American temples by 1977.

In 1971 a group of twelve was chosen to manage the fledgling society. This group was named the Governing Body Commission (GBC). The primary functions of a GBC member were to advise and oversee temples within a particular geographic area, and to insure that certain standards were being followed by the members of each temple within this "zone". In addition, the body also had powers to enact laws for the more effective running of the society at large.

The movement's philosophy taught that although devotees may occupy different material positions, all should be treated equally because of their identical spiritual nature. Members were expected to work co-operatively for the service of God (Krishna). All devotees (GBC and non-GBC) were obliged to follow four rigid principles: no meat eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication of any kind and no gambling. Attendance at early morning devotional programs, including a two hour prayer-meditation session was also encouraged for everyone.

In 1977 the founder of the movement was near passing away. Prabhupada requested his followers to be with him. Several GBC members, present at the time, minimized the request and discouraged others from coming. As a result, a very small number of devotees were with Prabhupada before his passing. During this period, the GBC made a practice of taping Prabhupada's words and instructions. After Prabhupadas passing, some GBC members used these recordings to assert that their position was to be the exclusive "new gurus" of the movement. Furthermore, they claimed to have inherited these positions for life.

This is a good illustration of the first stage of Oligarchy's "Iron Law". The goal of these leaders seems to be simply to stay in power. Some devotees objected to the above claims, saying that much of the information had been misrepresented and taken out of context. Most of these dissenters were stigmatized by the "new gurus" and lost all credibility (chilling of dissent, coercion).

Soon the "new gurus" became surrounded by their own followers from whom they demanded obedience and service. Over a period of time, many came to accept gifts for their personal comfort as a standard "side benefit" of their position. Thoughts of using these gifts for the mission's purposes waned.

The above trend demonstrates the second phase of the "Iron Law": "power holders cannot resist using public resources for personal gain." Being surrounded by followers and opulence, the "new gurus" began to think of themselves as important world figures although they were known only to a relatively small number of people. They embarked on expensive "worldwide" preaching tours, had books and magazines printed in their honor, and celebrated their own birthdays with great pomp. Instances arose of "new gurus" who became slack in following the strict requirements, but this lax behavior was rationalized by their followers as being divine manifestations ("lila").

These are obvious example of the third step of the "Iron Law" at work: "power holders became cut off from reality and developed an exaggerated sense of their own virtues."

Observing the above tendencies toward corruption, an increasing number of devotees became alarmed. Their concern was initially disregarded entirely by the "new gurus". Then, it was tossed off as being envious comments of an ambitious few. As the clamor rose, strong condemnations were rained upon dissenters by the "new gurus". Unable to hear or understand the problems, even when presented to them in a clear and logical fashion, the "new gurus" developed attitudes containing a mixture of paranoia and blind utopianism. Thus, the fourth stage of oligarchy had set in: "Those in power develop the belief that less powerful people are naturally inferior."

In time, a reform group was organized with in the Hare Krishna movement that eventually replaced the "new gurus" with a more democratic system of management.

As we have seen, regardless of the character of the individual in power (a saint or a sinner), the "Iron Law of Oligarchy" seems to take effect. Footnote-Information gathered from an interview with a member of the Hare Krishna movement on 7/30/87. Reference to Michel's "Iron Law of Oligarchy", Contemporary Society: A Classical Approach and Sociology by Beth Hess, Elizabeth Markson and Peter Stein.

Iron Law of Oligarchy/ Inside Nam Hatta
© 2004 - Hansadutta dasa
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Srila Prabhupada, His Movement & You
Hierarch, Hierarchy & You
Rittvik is Not a Quick Fix
Bhaktivedanta Purports


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